Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin's State of the City address acknowledged progress Connecticut's distressed capital has made over the past year.
Deficits of up to $50 million top the list of unfinished business.
"While we have much more work to do, I am more confident than ever in the future of our city," Bronin told the Court of Common Council at a packed City Hall chamber on Monday night.
"Hartford is done with business as usual."
Bronin, former chief counsel to Gov. Dannel Malloy, took office in January 2016 and spent his first year troubleshooting on several fronts.
Crises included two four-notch bond-rating downgrades, one of them dropping Hartford's general obligation bonds to junk; mounting debt from refundings that came due; backlash from a doom-and-gloom budget; mostly unresolved labor negotiations; and a minor-league ballpark funding fiasco that he inherited.
Moody's Investors Service lowered Hartford GOs to a junk-level Ba2. S&P Global Ratings knocked the city to BBB from A-plus, keeping it barely investment grade.
Hartford faces a $17 million gap this year and an estimated deficit of about $50 million for next year.
"We still face deficits much larger than we can close through cuts," Bronin said Monday. "And until we've built a new partnership with the state of Connecticut and other stakeholders, we cannot yet take any option off the table."
That includes bankruptcy, although Bronin has repeatedly said he would rather Hartford avoid Chapter 9.
Hartford's plight even prompted Bronin to explain the 125,000-population city's financial plight several suburban town meetings at which he called for a "regional solution." Remedies, he said, could range from shared services to a commuter tax.
The city received a financial and psychological boost two weeks ago when the chief executives of insurers Aetna Inc., Travelers Cos. and The Hartford – the city's biggest private-sector employers – agreed to donate $10 million per year over five years.
Sighs of relief came from city officials who feared business flight from a city long synonymous with the insurance industry.
An agreement late last year with the Hartford Fire Fighters Association, said Bronin, could open the door to other labor deals as well as save the city $4 million next year alone. The agreement includes changes to pension contributions and benefits, active and retiree health care, and salary schedules.
Economic development, said the mayor, could spark a downtown revival. The University of Connecticut expects to move its downtown campus into the old Hartford Times building behind City Hall later this year. Dunkin' Donuts Park, the baseball venue just north of downtown beset with delays and overruns that pushed the cost to about $71 million, is scheduled to open April 13.
Commuter rail service connecting the city south to New Haven and north to Springfield, Mass., is scheduled for 2018; a Barnes & Noble bookstore is on the horizon and state lawmakers are considering a bonding package to upgrade the XL Center downtown arena.
In addition, work will finally start on a streetscape improvement project on Albany Avenue, the main thoroughfare along the city's blighted North End, and for which Hartford has had access to tens of millions of federal dollars.
"It wasn't prioritized, the designs were never completed, and the work was never done," said Bronin. "This summer, that work will finally begin."
His initiative to combat blight includes a land bank, funded with $5 million in grant funding secured to help restore blighted properties through public-private partnerships.